A photo of a Honduran mother wearing a Frozen T-shirt and her 5-year-old twin daughters desperately fleeing tear gas fired by U.S. border officials has become a potent symbol of a disturbing incident in which a peaceful march by a migrant caravan erupted suddenly into chaos. Maria Meza, 39, was photographed by Reuters’ photojournalist Kim Kyung-Hoon as she fled at least three tear gas canisters that were fired at her and her five children after some members of the migrant caravan allegedly tried to cross into the U.S. through an opening in the border fence. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Meza said that she hadn’t seen anyone trying to cross illegally, and that she and her children were only looking at the border wall when tear gas canisters suddenly rained down on them. One of her sons, the mother said, nearly fainted from the gas and only managed to run away after she threw water in his face to awaken him.
“I brought five of my kids with me yesterday. I was there with them at the wall. I felt sad, scared, and wanted to cry. That’s when I grabbed my daughters and ran,” she recalled. “I thought my kids were going to die with me because of the gas we inhaled. We started running, and we fell in the mud, but when I started to rise and get up I couldn’t. Another guy grabbed me by the hand and helped me get up.”
The incident at the U.S.-Mexico border occured after Mexican federal police blocked a peaceful march toward the border from about 500 members of the migrant caravan. After members of the caravan circumvented the blockades and managed to make it to a train border crossing, some tried to cross through into the U.S. and threw objects at border agents, agents responded by firing tear gas and pepper balls, according to officials from Customs and Border Protection. Speaking back at Tijuana’s Benito Juarez stadium, where the caravan’s members are being housed, Meza denied the claims of President Donald Trump and other immigration hard-liners that migrants deserve ill-treatment because they are mostly “stone cold criminals” seeking to invade the U.S.
“They know we are human beings just like them,” she said. “It wasn’t right that they acted that way with kids. They have kids too, and they should’ve thought about their own kids, just like they should’ve thought about ours. It wasn’t right what they did, to throw bombs.”
“I hope God will help me enter [the U.S.] with these kids because we’re suffering,” she continued. “I’m praying to God. I know that he will open the doors so that we can enter … I’m a mother who needs a job. I work to help my kids move forward and give them the best.”
Watch Buzzfeed’s interview with Meza below.
Check out my video interview with the woman in the widely circulated picture of her running away from tear gas with her two daughters at the border on Sunday. https://t.co/tFT6oSb4rP pic.twitter.com/ZDJCGpBtHW
— Adolfo Flores (@aflores) November 27, 2018